Run a startup, travel the world, defy convention: Q&A with Chris Guillebeau

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Building a startup on-the-go while you travel the world may seem unlikely. The status quo would have us believe it borders on the impossible. Thing is, Chris Guillebeau has done just that. Oh and he also writes books and evangelically spreads his unconventional ideas on entrepreneurship and startup communities.

The word “unconventional” is actually a pretty accurate description of Guillebeau. The American entrepreneur reckons you can build a startup for less than US$100 and even wrote a book explaining how. His popular blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, focuses on travel and personal development topics and meshes with his personal mission of helping people live life by their own rules using a “non-conformist” lifestyle.

We caught up with him during his travels and talked about his insights on building a startup, how he uses technology and where he thinks the next “big thing” in tech will come from.

MB: Building a startup while office-bound is hard enough, how do you build both a startup and a community as you travel the world?

CG: I’ve never separated travel from my work. For 10 years I’ve been actively travelling to 20+ countries a year, and for the same time I’ve been building online projects. I think it helps that I enjoy what I do. I don’t feel like I’m struggling because I’m motivated to keep working away.

MB: You are constantly building ‘Unconventional Products For World Domination’ and send blog updates, sometimes in airports, from the world. What are the top three things that go into building a new product?

CG:

  1. Understand what people really want. (It’s not always what they say they want.)
  2. Create a highly compelling offer. The offer is at least as important than the product or service itself, and most people save it for last. Don’t save it; design your whole structure around the offer.
  3. Ensure good follow-up and over-deliver whenever possible. Your customers will stay with you for life if you keep helping them.

MB: You recently released a book to help writers get their books published. What doesn’t the world know about self-publishing?

CG: The world doesn’t know that the break between self-publishing and traditional publishing is overstated. You can self-publish and traditionally publish. For me, I love both options.

MB: Can cheap, democratised technology overcome barriers in entrepreneurship?

CG: Sure, and we see that especially in Africa. In the future I think we’ll have more and more African entrepreneurs accessing a global marketplace instead of just buying and selling within Africa.

MB: In 2011, you embarked on your ‘Unconventional Book Tour’ which involved your blog readers. What three lessons can you share from that tour and rallying your audience as part of a cause for common interest?

CG: The book tour is continuing now and I hope to visit South Africa at some point. (I’ve been many times as a traveller, but never as an author on tour). Among other things, I learned that meeting readers is an excellent source of inspiration. After a meetup, I go away thinking about the people I heard from, many of whom are living remarkable lives of their own. It helps me to serve them better when I know who they are.

MB: What’s the most challenging tech situation you’ve ever found yourself in?

CG: I’m constantly searching for Wi-Fi access everywhere I go. Surprisingly, some poor countries have better access than some rich countries. It just depends on the country and even the specific area.

MB: What’s your latest book, The $100 Startup about?

CG: Two things. First, it’s the story of 70 “unexpected entrepreneurs” from all over the world who started businesses by using small amounts of money and the skills they already had. Second, it’s a blueprint for readers to do the same. The goal is to inspire a revolution of freedom, as more and more people choose self-employment over traditional jobs.

MB: What has changed for you since you built your first startup, which inspired you to write a book to educate entrepreneurs?

CG: I’ve learned to become more strategic. In the early days, I was primarily concerned with getting by and paying the bills. This was better than working a regular job, of course, but I wasn’t really building anything of real value. These days I feel focused on a clear goal, so it’s a lot easier.

MB: Where do you think the next big tech innovator will come from?

CG: I’m less interested in innovation and more interested in usefulness. Most of us aren’t going to make the next iPhone, but we can all make something that improves people’s lives. To me, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.

The Kindle version of The $100 Startup is already available for sale.

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